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Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin 19072.jpg
Scott Joplin in June 1903. This picture also appears on the cover of "The Cascades" from 1904.
Background information
Birth name Scott Joplin
Also known as King of Ragtime Writers
Born c. late 1867 or early 1868 (death stone says 11-2-68)
Northeast Texas, U.S.
Origin Texarkana, Texas
Died April 1, 1917 (aged 49)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Ragtime, march, waltz
Occupation(s) Composer, pianist, music teacher
Instruments Piano, cornet, guitar, mandolin, violin, banjo, vocals
Years active 1895–1917

Scott Joplin (c. 1868 – April 1, 1917) was an American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions and was dubbed the King of Ragtime. During his brief career, he wrote over 100 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first and most popular pieces, the "Maple Leaf Rag", became ragtime's first and most influential hit.

Joplin's music was rediscovered and returned to popularity in the early 1970s with the release of a million-selling album recorded by Joshua Rifkin. This was followed by the Academy Award-winning 1973 film The Sting, which featured several of Joplin's compositions, most notably "The Entertainer", a piece performed by pianist Marvin Hamlisch that received wide airplay.

In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize.

Early life

Joplin was the second of six children born to Giles Joplin, a former slave from North Carolina, and Florence Givens, a freeborn African-American woman from Kentucky. His birth date was accepted by early biographers Rudi Blesh and James Haskins as November 24, 1868, although later biographer Edward Berlin showed this was "almost certainly incorrect". There is disagreement over his exact place of birth in Texas, Texarkana or Linden.

His mother said he should learn music.

Musical career

While in Texarkana, Texas, he formed a vocal quartet and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s, he left his job as a railroad laborer and traveled the American South as an itinerant musician. He went to Chicago for the World's Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.

Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri in 1894 and earned a living as a piano teacher. There he taught future ragtime composers Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden and Brun Campbell. He began publishing music in 1895 and publication of his "Maple Leaf Rag" in 1899 brought him fame.

Joplin is most well known for writing piano pieces called rags. His music became popular again in the 1970s, with the album Scott Joplin: Piano Rags, performed by Joshua Rifkin, from Nonesuch Records. He may be most commonly known now by the Marvin Hamlisch adaptation of his composition The Entertainer (1902) which was used in the 1973 movie The Sting starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford. His best-known song while he was alive was Maple Leaf Rag (1899). Other rags he wrote were The Ragtime Dance (1906) and Magnetic Rag (1914).

Scott Joplin wrote more than 40 piano rags, but he also wrote two operas; A Guest of Honor and Treemonisha. A Guest of Honor was performed in Joplin's lifetime, but since then the music has been lost. Treemonisha was never performed while Joplin was alive, but it has been performed since then. Joplin also wrote a symphony, but the music has been lost.


In 1916, Joplin had dementia. He was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital in January 1917 and died there three months later at the age of 48.

Joplin's death is widely considered to mark the end of ragtime as a mainstream music format; over the next several years, it evolved with other styles into stride, jazz and eventually big band swing.

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